Back in 2007, current Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was asked where he stood on the question of evolution. His answer: “I think it’s a theory and I don’t accept it.”
Fast forward 4 years, and Paul’s view on evolution has changed. Or not. “My personal view is that recognizing the validity of an evolutionary process does not support atheism nor should it diminish one’s view about God and the universe,” he writes in his 2010 book, Liberty Defined. This statement, fully consistent with his first one, indicates that his view of science (or at least his ability to parse language) has evolved.
More interestingly, his 2007 comment was prefaced by this remark: “Well, first I thought it was a very inappropriate question, you know, for the presidency to be decided on a scientific matter.” This opinion has not changed. In Liberty he asks, “Why should an individual running for the presidency of the United States be quizzed as to whether or not he or she believes in evolution?”
In a very narrow sense, he’s right. One does not need to subscribe to any particular scientific theory in order to right the listing economy, or to protect U.S. interests abroad, or to navigate Capitol Hill. In principle, one could reject the heliocentric theory and still be a first-rate president.
But he is ultimately wrong about the inappropriateness of the question. It is appropriate because the answer has consequences that go far beyond science. He was not being asked to understand the details of a scientific controversy; nor was he asked to explain why particle physicists are having a hard time finding the Higgs boson, to provide his opinion on the neural basis of language, or to comment on the nature of bonding in hypervalent molecules. He was asked his view on the fundamental and scientifically uncontroversial idea undergirding all biological science.
Paul’s fellow candidates Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are candid about their hostility toward evolution. Both support Creationism 2.0, also known as intelligent design. “I support intelligent design,” Bachmann told reporters earlier this year. “There is reasonable doubt on both sides.” And Perry, in a 2010 interview, said, “I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution.”
These statements say more than themselves, and this is why Paul is wrong to think the evolution question is inappropriate. With these words the GOP candidates are making a confession of a significant kind: That, in essence, evolution is a vast, left-wing conspiracy.
They are confessing their belief that 99.99% of scientists, research centers, natural history museums, public schools, and secular (and many religious) private schools are collectively trying to pull a fast one. A worldwide, tightly-coordinated fast one, aimed at who? The anti-evolution crowd.
(That’s some ego trip.)
Look here to get a list of some of the conspiracy’s major players, who insist—in the clearest possible language—that there is zero scientific controversy about evolution. Not just biologists, but scientists from an enormous range of disciplines—many of whom are Republicans and/or religious believers—agree that evolution is here to stay and that intelligent design is a complete nonstarter.
How can they reject all of this out-of-hand? With a straight face?
Maybe it’s as simple as this: Perhaps those politicians who reject evolution cannot conceive of any human institution that is not fundamentally and self-consciously political. But such institutions do exist. As Karl Giberson wrote in the Huffington Post last week, the National Academy of Sciences is not a liberal pressure group. They are not just “left-wing Tea Partiers with PhDs.”
In rejecting evolution, the majority of GOP frontrunners admit to believing otherwise.